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PhilipKT

Query: Multiple C Clefs used in Bach Chorales

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I understand that these are C clefs. The line that intersects the middle of the clef is C. My question is why use the same clef multiple times? Regardless of whether it’s being played on a keyboard or sung by four people, it’s simpler to use Treble and Bass clefs. This is from a wonderful little 1955 Lea pocketbook score containing 185 four part Bach chorales.

Every single chorale has the same format: three C clefs in different places, and one bass clef.

why?

BTW, I also picked up a 1924 textbook on music fundamentals( they made beautiful books in those days!) in which I found that the F clef was actually the first clef, which I found rather surprising.

anyway, a little help?

 

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It probably reduced the chances of a note having to be placed on the extra ledger lines. That would save space in the music, and keep it all tidy. The music would be type-set.  Can you imagine how hard it would be to have to deal with extra ledger lines?

I also think many choral singers were trained to watch for intervals, rather than note name. The intervals are also easier to see if they remain within the basic staff.

...I will also guess that the harmonies are easier to "see" this way.

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31 minutes ago, Rue said:

It probably reduced the chances of a note having to be placed on the extra ledger lines. That would save space in the music, and keep it all tidy. The music would be type-set.  Can you imagine how hard it would be to have to deal with extra ledger lines?

I also think many choral singers were trained to watch for intervals, rather than note name. The intervals are also easier to see if they remain within the basic staff.

...I will also guess that the harmonies are easier to "see" this way.

I’ll except your suggestion regarding tidy music as a possibility, but heavens, I can’t think of anything less easier to see than one Clef symbol being used in three different locations.

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Why?  Even I can see the harmonies.

Don't forget, way back when, choir was a huge commitment for many people, they would have gotten used to this quickly.  Also...each singer didn't have to learn all 4 parts, they only sang their line.

I don't know if this makes it easier for the choir conductor to conduct, but I'd imagine it would.

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

I found that the F clef was actually the first clef, which I found rather surprising.

it makes more sense if you know them as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass clefs.  the purpose is to keep the range more on the staff with fewer ledger lines, and the copyist doesn't have to write as many ledger lines as well.  totally practical

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1 hour ago, Rue said:

Why?  Even I can see the harmonies.

Don't forget, way back when, choir was a huge commitment for many people, they would have gotten used to this quickly.  Also...each singer didn't have to learn all 4 parts, they only sang their line.

I don't know if this makes it easier for the choir conductor to conduct, but I'd imagine it would.

Yes, each singer is only seeing their own line, but it would be really difficult for the choir director to play on the keyboard, at least until he gets used to it. You can get used to anything, So maybe I’m just a hidebound traditionalist when I laud  and magnify good old trouble clef and bass clef

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i wondered if a conductor's score might be different the way it is for transposing instruments.  so i looked up the autograph score of st. matthew passion, and it uses satb clefs.  then looked up beethoven 9th last movement, and same at those rare points where he writes any clef.  if there was a rehearsal pianist no doubt he'd use a piano arrangement w/ treble and bass clef

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20 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

So maybe I’m just a hidebound traditionalist when I laud  and magnify good old trouble clef and bass clef

You start playing baroque and early music, and you start getting all sorts of weird clefs thrown at you with regularity. I think a hidebound traditionalist would be able to read any clef.

We're very modern and utilitarian with our reliance on treble and bass clefs.

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3 minutes ago, Stephen Fine said:

You start playing baroque and early music, and you start getting all sorts of weird clefs thrown at you with regularity. I think a hidebound traditionalist would be able to read any clef.

We're very modern and utilitarian with our reliance on treble and bass clefs.

One nice thing about playing the cello is that we have to learn all three major clefs as a matter of course, so yes I can read them. For me, it’s just awkward to see the same symbol in three different places, and it would take getting used to. I went back and looked at my 1924 textbook and one of the things specifically mentioned in the textbook is the desire to avoid ledger lines outside the staff, which encouraged the composer to use whichever clef would allow him to stay within the standard staff.

So Rue was exactly right.

yay Rue!

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I have my moments...^_^

This issue came up for me when I couldn't 'manage' a piece of music that continually jumped from bass to tenor clef...like every 2 bars. :wacko:

I've avoided learning tenor because I want to be quicker on the draw sight-reading bass clef before I start to confuse my brain.

If the piece had been entirely written in bass clef, I would have had no issues.

*and regarding that bit of music, it wouldn't have saved any appreciable room on the sheet music, so I think it was just customary (at the time of printing, or for that publisher) to change the clef if any note exceeded 'xxx', even if it didn't make sense.

**I am also very very slow reading the C clef (viola), which is why I'm avoiding tenor as well...

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1 hour ago, Ron MacDonald said:

I would have thought that the alto clef would count as a major one and I assume the cellists don't learn it.

 It is called the C Clef, Because wherever it is located, the middle line is C. Cello and viola versions have different locations, but of course cellists can read the viola location as easily as we can read our own. The G clef and the F clef Could also presumably be located at different places on the staff, but they would remain the G and the F clef.

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4 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

 ...The G clef and the F clef Could also presumably be located at different places on the staff, but they would remain the G and the F clef.

Are you sure?  I thought they had to identify the g and the f, just like the c clef identifies the c?

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17 minutes ago, Rue said:

Are you sure?  I thought they had to identify the g and the f, just like the c clef identifies the c?

Yes of course. No matter where they are located, an F clef identifies where F is and a G clef locates G.

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43 minutes ago, Rue said:

I have my moments...^_^

This issue came up for me when I couldn't 'manage' a piece of music that continually jumped from bass to tenor clef...like every 2 bars. :wacko:

I've avoided learning tenor because I want to be quicker on the draw sight-reading bass clef before I start to confuse my brain.

If the piece had been entirely written in bass clef, I would have had no issues.

*and regarding that bit of music, it wouldn't have saved any appreciable room on the sheet music, so I think it was just customary (at the time of printing, or for that publisher) to change the clef if any note exceeded 'xxx', even if it didn't make sense.

**I am also very very slow reading the C clef (viola), which is why I'm avoiding tenor as well...

When I teach my kids, I equate the different clefs, as well as the different keys, To languages. Just like it’s difficult to translate English into Spanish and back, but gets less difficult with practice, the process is the same with clefs. 

In the example I showed, three of the clefs are the same. I could easily read each one individually, but it’s considerably more confusing when you have the same clef in three different locations. But you get used to it over time I guess.

A lot of changes aren’t logical, however I have a Vivaldi cello Concerto that switches, apparently at random, from bass clef to tenor clef and back, and it’s probably the most annoying piece I’ve ever read through.

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As a person who plays violin, cello, and viola as an amateur I have no problem with the two higher C clefs in the OP's figure. But I do have a problem reading the alto clef on a cello or the tenor clef on viola. When first I learned to read treble clef on cello I just switched my mind to violin (which I started 10 years earlier) and it was no problem and I still approach it that way now, 70 years later. And a year before that, the first day I got the cello and a month before my first cello lesson, I just read my violin music and played it on cello an octave down (I wish I could still do that as well now).  In my experience, professional cellists, at least those who coach string quartets seem able to read the alto (C clef) just fine.

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I would regard F, C and G as classes of clefs.  The definition of alto clef designates the line on which C falls and it cannot be confused with the tenor (which has its own definition).

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10 minutes ago, Ron MacDonald said:

I would regard F, C and G as classes of clefs.  The definition of alto clef designates the line on which C falls and it cannot be confused with the tenor (which has its own definition).

You can look at it that way if you wish, ultimately what matters is being able to read the notes, and we are allowed to conceptualize as we wish. The C clef is a symbol. No matter where it is located on the staff, it identifies the location of Middle C. 

My students would Probably assimilate the information equally quickly regardless of which approach were used, and that’s what matters.

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32 minutes ago, Rue said:

The nine possible clefs

GGCCCCCFFF

I suppose you could memorize that as the “French violin Clef” But given a standard staff, it’s easier to just say G clef on E/bottom line.

 

As a comparison, every cellist, once he learns how to shift, no longer needs the mnemonic of “first position, second position,” and so on. We just say, “put your thumb on G on the A string, “and away we go. If, on the other hand, you asked me to find seventh position on the cello, it would take a while.

BTW Where did you find this? Very interesting informationWhere did you find this? Very interesting information

Edited by PhilipKT
Addendum.... and an extra “C”

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